Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Friday, May 13, 2011

U-M hosting U.S.-China conference on sustainable energy, water and transportation

Science, policy and industry leaders from the world's two largest emitters of heat-trapping greenhouse gases — the United States and China — will gather at U-M next week to tackle one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century: how to develop sustainable societies.


Click here for more information about the conference.
Watch a video overview that outlines the goals of the conference.
Watch a video with comments from participants at the U.S.-China sustainability conference.

Unlike a purely academic conference, "Developing Global Sustainability: U.S./China Partnerships" will feature representatives from the energy, transportation and water industries, government policy leaders from both countries, university researchers, and members of non-governmental organizations.

The conference is the second of U-M's two 2011 "Michigan Meetings." It will be May 20-21 at the Rackham School of Graduate Studies. It will focus on the key policies and technologies needed to attain sustainable energy, water resources and transportation, especially as they pertain to the United States and China.

As the world's top energy consumers, energy producers and greenhouse gas emitters, the U.S. and China will play central roles in the world's transition to a clean energy economy in the years ahead.

"Both the U.S. and China face major challenges in energy, water and transportation sustainability, and some of these challenges for the two countries are basically the same. So we really need to work together on these issues to find solutions," says conference organizer Mark Banaszak Holl, U-M associate vice president for research.

About 225 participants are expected, including at least 100 from China.

"We're bringing together groups of people who don't normally talk together: folks from the government, industry, academics and NGOs in both countries," Holl says. "The perspectives of all of these groups will be critical as we work to achieve a sustainable society."

Scheduled speakers include:

• David Sandalow, assistant secretary for policy and international affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy. Sandalow is the author of "Freedom from Oil" and editor of "Plug-In Electric Vehicles: What Role for Washington?"

• Jun Ma, founding director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing. His 1999 book "China's Water Crisis" analyzed the challenges facing China's seven major water basins and suggested that the country should adopt a new water management strategy.

• Patricia Mulroy, general manager of the Las Vegas Valley Water District, Southern Nevada Water Authority. Mulroy oversees the operations of a water district that serves more than 340,000 customers, as well as the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which is responsible for acquiring, treating and delivering water to local agencies that collectively serve two million residents and nearly 40 million annual visitors.

• Robert Bertini, deputy administrator of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Research and Innovative Technology Administration. Bertini has more than 21 years of experience in the transportation field, including work with local government, several national transportation consulting firms on transit and highway projects, the auto industry, and university research and education.

"I hope from this conference we can identify the major challenges for sustainable transportation and also discuss the opportunities for future collaborative research that will benefit both countries," says Wei Zhang, a professor of industrial engineering at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Zhang will discuss the role of safety in sustainable transportation systems.

"I think it's really important for the U.S. and China to work together on these problems," says Donald Scavia, director of the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute. "By learning from each other — sharing experiences, sharing technologies, sharing approaches — these two massive countries can do more together than they could separately."

Scavia, who is special counsel to the U-M president for sustainability, helped organize the sustainable-water portion of the conference. The program will address the serious water quality and quantity issues faced by both countries.

The meeting builds on years of collaboration between U-M and Chinese universities. In 2001, U-M became the first non-Chinese academic institution approved to offer graduate engineering degrees to students in China, at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. In 2005, U-M and SJTU strengthened the partnership by forming a Joint Institute to manage and direct degree-granting programs offered by both universities to students from both nations.

Last year, U-M and SJTU launched two programs to jointly fund renewable energy and biomedical research projects involving investigators from both universities. Also last year, the Energy Department selected U-M to lead a U.S.-China partnership to advance technologies for clean-energy vehicles.

The $25 million Clean Energy Research Center on Clean Vehicles is one of several U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Centers, known as CERCs, created by the Energy Department. The U-M-led CERC will focus on vehicle electrification.

The U-M-led consortium includes Ohio State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sandia National Laboratories, Joint BioEnergy Institute, Oak Ridge National Laboratories, General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Chrysler, Cummins, Fraunhofer, MAGNET, A123, American Electric Power, First Energy and the U-M Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI).

Dennis Assanis, director of U-M's Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute, is principal investigator of the U-M-led CERC and helped organize the sustainable energy portion of the upcoming conference.

"Developing novel renewable energy technologies is a very expensive proposition," Assanis says. "By working together, the United States and China can share some of the costs and develop solutions more quickly."

Sponsors of the upcoming international conference include the Office of the Vice President for Research, the Rackham School of Graduate Studies, the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute and the Dow Chemical Co. Other U-M sponsors: Center for Chinese Studies, the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise, the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute, the School of Natural Resources and Environment, and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

"I'm absolutely certain that a major outcome of this conference will be great collaborative links between researchers here and researchers in China," says Peter Sweatman, director of UMTRI.

"We're going to see a lot of collaboration going forward in new areas and in new ways we hadn't thought of," Sweatman says.